Album Review: MGMT - 'Congratulations' (Columbia)
Not quite as mad or suicidal as rumour suggested, the duo's follow-up to 'Oracular...' is more conflicted than courageous
Frankly, anyone who’s ever seen the band’s wilting live show or listened to the songs on [b]‘Oracular Spectacular’[/b] not called [b]‘Time To Pretend’[/b] or [b]‘Kids’[/b] shouldn’t be surprised by what’s here. Unfortunately for [a]MGMT[/a], they have a load of two-song fans, and last month they were booed in London for not playing [b]‘Kids’[/b]. But, frankly, meatheads like that deserve to be disappointed, and God knows the band won’t miss them at the next show. In reality, [a]MGMT[/a] haven’t written a suicide note, they’ve committed murder on that unwanted portion of their fanbase.
Nothing wrong with that; what’s disappointing is how they’ve done it – not with an unsettling dash for the leftfield, but by sabotaging themselves and releasing the remains. [b]‘Congratulations’[/b] has dropped the hooks and shrugged off pop, but it isn’t the dramatic art project you’d hope for from cynical acid princes with a blank cheque and [b]Sonic Boom[/b]’s phone number.
It’s easy to see why on first listen people were racing to write this off as an unlikable, unapproachable record; it’s less of an album, more a collection of psychedelic highs strung together by very little indeed. It’s like listening to an inspired collection of outtakes by some classic damaged band – a catalogue of half-ideas, which, fully realised, could have been brilliant.
It’s so discombobulated that the 12-minute time-frame of the centre-piece, [b]‘Siberian Breaks’[/b], seems utterly arbitrary, a bracket which could have been thrown over any section of this record, with equal success and coherence. Like the album, there’s plenty to admire inside the song – ideas, a willingness to flit between styles and moods, flashes of beauty and moments of fun – but, just like the rest of the album, every thought is discarded before it blooms.
It’s not a trait that will impress the casual downloader. But to accredit this ambivalence towards structure to [a]MGMT[/a]’s disregard of the fairweather fan may be overstating the solemnity with which they approach their art. The incomplete feel of [b]‘Congratulations’[/b] seems more like half-heartedness than hard-headedness.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the band have approached their own talent with such little reverence; after all, their first hit was a guide to becoming a rock star cliché. They’re still entertained by ironic pranks: the slapstick levels of reverence heaped upon the comical [b]‘Brian Eno’[/b] reek of a stoner private joke; funny for them, sure, but, like most such sniggers, just annoying for anyone else.
For all the frustration, though, there are inspired flashes: [b]‘Someone’s Missing’[/b] is an anthem sitting strangely as a three-minute song at the top of the album, [b]‘Flash Delirium’[/b] is a directionless drama, but is full of moments of well-orchestrated complexity. [b]‘Lady Dada’s Nightmare’[/b] is a flitting, diminutive [b]‘Great Gig In The Sky’[/b], which will probably sit on repeat in hot-boxed dorms through 2010, while [b]‘I Found A Whistle’[/b] is a triumphant, complete and uplifting song. Unfortunately, these moments are distributed like a lashed handful of pebbles.
Overall, [a]MGMT[/a]’s refusal to co-operate with the listener jars with the crisp and professional production – which, despite Sonic Boom’s involvement, is more [b]Van Dyke Parks[/b] than [b]Spacemen 3[/b] and leaves [b]‘Congratulations’[/b] sitting somewhere in the middle, not complex enough for the prats, but too obscure for the jerks.
[i]What do you think of the album? Let us know by posting a comment below.[/i]
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